Pride history exhibit opens in Surrey

The Surrey Pride Society society has shaped the LGBTQIA2S+ community in Surrey

The photo is of the outdoor Surrey Pride Festival. A drag performer is on an outdoor stage as the crowd watches.
This year’s Surrey Pride events included live music and drag shows. PHOTO: Yasmin Simsek / The Peak

By: Yasmin Vejs Simsek, Staff Writer

Dr. Jen Marchbank from SFU’s gender, sexuality and women’s studies department has curated the first LGBTQIA2S+ exhibit at the Museum of Surrey. This comes as part of the museum’s Show and Share displays with elements from the LGBTQIAS2+ community’s history in the city. The exhibit is currently on and will be open to view until September 4. It consists of elements from Marchbank’s personal archives, news articles from the Surrey archives, as well as donations from SHER and other organizations. 

2024 will be the 25th anniversary of Pride in Surrey, and Marchbank is planning on making this exhibit permanent at the Museum of Surrey before then. The Peak interviewed Marchbank to learn more about Surrey Pride.  

Surrey Pride Society has existed since 2001, when it was called Out in Surrey Rainbow Cultural Society. Four years prior to the society’s establishment, three LGBTQIA2S+ books were banned by the Surrey School Board due to parental complains. The complaint began when James Chamberlain, a teacher, submitted the books to the school board for approval prior to teaching them in class. This turned into a legal battle and made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the decision was overturned. At the time, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin said, “Tolerance is always age-appropriate, children cannot learn unless they are exposed to views that differ from those they are taught at home.” 

The three specific books can be seen at the Museum of Surrey: Belinda’s Bouquet, Asha’s Mums, and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads. On her search to find them, Marchbank said, “They are not anywhere in the library system of Surrey. So I’ll be making a request.” 

In June 1999, president of Surrey Pride Society, Martin Rooney, was dared to put on Surrey’s first queer dance as a fundraiser to fight the people who were in support of the book ban. To that, Marchbank’s wife, Sylvia Traphan, said, “So what the bigots actually achieved was they started the whole movement in Surrey.”  

The Surrey museum’s exhibit told the story of Rooney, who has a long history with LGBTQIA2S+ activism. From 1993 to 2010, the US had a travel ban on people who were HIV positive. Rooney was going to the US in 2007 to buy a turkey when he was stopped because of his HIV positive status. He was interrogated for three hours, accused of having false papers, his photo was run through the FBI’s most wanted list, and was turned back to Canada. 

Rooney ensured this story reached the media and held a rally to get the US Senate to lift the ban. Because of Rooney’s hard work, Marchbank stated, “It made the American government change the law.” When the ban was lifted over two years later on January 4, 2010, Rooney then went to the US to purchase his turkey.  

During the beginning of the pandemic, Surrey Pride Society had a virtual festival, which is being screened at the Museum of Surrey as part of the exhibit. The festival was filmed in “a grotty little bar with a green screen. The floor space for the whole bar was about this size,” Marchbank said while gesturing to an area of no more than 10 square metres.

This year, Surrey Pride Society held events throughout June, many of them specifically for certain groups within the LGBTQIA2S+ community. It culminated in the annual Pride festival which took place on June 25 at Surrey Central City Plaza. 

The attendance was estimated to be similar to the success of 2019 and community members of all ages came out to celebrate Pride. There were free popsicles, merchandise from the vendors, numerous live music acts, and drag shows being performed in 28-degree heat. The show was finished off with a rendition of “Sweet Caroline” by Rooney.

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